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Cogitating on Nuclear Power

I've been cogitating on the question of nuclear power. I grew up in Oak Ridge, TN. Atomic city, home of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Manhattan Project, the bombs that destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima. There are annual anti-nuke protests in Oak Ridge. I never saw them when I lived there. I remember when my father started hoarding canned food in the basement. I vaguely remember the 3 Mile Island meltdown (1979, I was 13), and a little more about the Chernobyl disaster (1986, I was 20). In 2008 the feds were planning 10 new nuclear power plants in the US. They're working on the designs, and at least one plant in Georgia is approved and going forward.

Just so you know, the Oak Ridge Boys (band) is NOT from Oak Ridge.

I have the impression, from whatever education and indoctrination I carry, that nuclear power is an essential component in keeping the power grid going while we learn how to subsist on whatever else we've got going. Hydropower and fossil are the other two sources that can be used as base power for the grid. Solar and wind power are dependent on sun and wind, and hence cannot be counted upon to generate electricity 24/7. So there's this idea that we want to keep the grid going, and that nukes can do it without adding carbon to the atmosphere. Kunstler in The Long Emergency argues that we need to get on the task of building some reactors that can operate for a very long time, and do it now while we still have the fossil fuels to use for that project. It would be very difficult to build reactors with stone age tools.

The questions have been jangled loose in my head. There are so many unanswered. I asked Bill what he thinks of nuclear power and he said he thinks it's a great idea except for a few little niggling details. The 2003 MIT report on the Future of Nuclear Power found that the prospects for nuclear energy as an option are limited... by four unresolved problems: high relative costs; perceived adverse safety, environmental, and health effects; potential security risks stemming from proliferation; and unresolved challenges in long-term management of nuclear wastes.

So what do you think? What do you know?

1. Where do we put the waste?
the current arrangement is to bribe communities to take it on
and in the meantime it's stored at the plants
could this work? would you live in a community that attempted to store such waste?
I have a biologist friend who worked years in the biz of storing nuclear toxics. I will ask him.
Yucca mountain leaks, not safe
blasting it into space sucks, risky, we could bomb ourselves
storing it for 10,000 years where it can't hurt anybody?
recycling, reusing, finding some other way to harness the residual radioactivity (who's studying this question?
1b. There's waste heat, too, from the water used for cooling. Seems like it would be relatively easy to make good use of that.

2. Who pays the build the plants?
the federal government: the tax payers: you and me (10 plants planned, one in Georgia is approved)
we haven't built any reactors since the 1970's. can we build them better now?
what if nuclear power was privatized? it is actually positive yield enough to be worth it?
like corn/methanol,would it be unappealing to business without subsidies?
how much do we really want to subsidize energy sources that are just repackaging and exploitation?
are we going to subsidize the operations too? the security? the transport? the mining?
the storage?
“Those who have long advocated for nuclear power — including many Republicans — have to recognize that we will not achieve a big boost in nuclear capacity unless we also create a system of incentives to make clean energy profitable,” Mr. Obama said.

3. Who pays the insurance on the plants?
same as #2 because there's not an insurance company on the planet that would take the gamble

4. Who has nuclear material that you could use to make bombs? Who is likely to use them?
USA, we did it already
who else?
how do we insure that the power industry is not a source of refined uranium for bomb builders
the refinement plant near Erwin, TN loses the most ore of anywhere (so I read once)
where does it go?
how do we make sure that the question of nuclear proliferation is separate from the power question?

5. Is nuclear really as high yield as I've been taught? Who can show me the total energy input and output of the system? I mean from digging up the ore, transporting, refining, transporting, building the plant, providing security, operating the plant, and the rest, does it actually yield more energy than we put in? Everyone seems to have a different idea of what sort of efficiency we're talking about. I've been told since childhood that atomic energy is cheap and clean. But obviously not always clean, and clearly not so cheap. There are environmentalists who've switched to supporting nuclear power, like Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore. How much did he cost? Or is he for real?

6. What is the public perception and how does it matter? The take on nuclear energy that's "it's bad" because "it's dangerous" and causes cancer is a little simplistic. There are no shortage of business ventures that thrive by polluting and kill without caring. If we're going to get serious about nukes not killing anybody, maybe we need to get a little more strict with are coal burning plants, our chemical plants, our food manufacturing. But that's another story. I'm working around a core question here that is something like how do we bring together enough unbiased information to allow reasonable citizens to make an intelligent decision? And how do we get our public figures to land on intelligent decisions for us? For the most part the public is spectacularly uninformed and ridiculously easy to manipulate. For the most part our government servants are corrupt and not serving the best interests of the people, rather, they are balancing competing interests that have far more sway than the regular ignorant folk.


this one has some info on reactors by region

The MIT study authors recommended:
--Placing increased emphasis on the once-through fuel cycle as best meeting the criteria of low costs and proliferation resistance;
--Offering a limited production tax-credit to 'first movers' - private sector investors who successfully build new nuclear plants. This tax credit is extendable to other carbon-free electricity technologies and is not paid unless the plant operates;
--Having government more fully develop the capabilities to analyze life-cycle health and safety impacts of fuel cycle facilities;
--Advancing a U.S. Department of Energy balanced long-term waste management R&D program.
Urging DOE to establish a Nuclear System Modeling project that would collect the engineering data and perform the analysis necessary to evaluate alternative reactor concepts and fuel cycles using the criteria of cost, safety, waste, and proliferation resistance. Expensive development projects should be delayed pending the outcome of this multi-year effort.
--Giving countries that forego proliferation-risky enrichment and reprocessing activities a preferred position to receive nuclear fuel and waste management services from nations that operate the entire fuel cycle.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 14th, 2010 03:39 pm (UTC)
Two of my uncles and two of my friends worked for NEI Quick Reactors, they made 'fast breeder' reactors. They claimed that the total energy produced by a plant over its entire life was less than the total used to build, operate and decommission it. But they didn't give figures and that sort of seems unlikely. But that's what they said.

The more interesting thing to me is the perception that nuclear power is a long long term answer, but even if we use multiple passes through the system and burn everything we can it still runs out fairly soon. I wrote up all the figures on here before.
Aug. 14th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC)
Your uncles may be right. The use of nuclear power could well be a net loss of energy, and just another device by which tax moneys are diverted into industry. I'm interested in analyses by environmentalists who think that it is a net gain. I haven't found one yet.

So you have figures somewhere for the available uranium and how long you think it will last? Can you set me up with a link?

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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